Mind your heart? Or jargon?

As I was packing my stuff and throwing away old things in my office, I found this article which was a pull-out of the 2014 Straits Times newspaper – Mind Your Body. This was a weekly pull-out which discussed  health news, policy and issues. I remember that I wanted to share this article with my students when I was teaching Circulatory System – Heart but I totally forgot about it. I guess my table is too disorganized. 😦

Healthy Heart, Healthy Mouth.jpg

This article was about a reader who wrote in to the newspaper to ask for professional advice on her condition “floppy heart valve” (mitral valve prolapse) and at the same time asking the relationship between her teeth and hearth health. I was very interested and analysed how the cardiologist answered her question and communicate the science behind. Does he try to simplify the terms or jargons to allow the reader to understand him?

In the first paragraph of answers, he did try to keep it simple by stating that the valve “is sitting between top and bottom chamber” instead using the scientific terms like atrium and ventricle. The valves are “lax and loose” to give an idea that the valves are not working. From second paragraph onward, some scientific terms like “infective endocarditis”, “genitourinary surgeries” “periodontal disease”, “coronary atherosclerosis”, “coronary stent”  and “blood thinning” start to appear and not much explanation about this terms. As a biology teacher, these terms are very common and actually some of them are in the Biology syllabus. I find it easy to understand and enriching. However, I was wondering if public would understand this article.

I did a survey and asked four colleagues to read the first two paragraphs to ask them what they understand from these paragraphs. Can they understand and explain what “floppy heart valve” is. My first colleague, Miss Ng Shi Shi, who is teaching Chemistry and studied Biology in her secondary years, said that it was quite difficult for her to understand those terms. She was unsure where the valve was, nor understood the condition. She was suggesting that maybe a diagram of the heart would be helpful. I proceed to ask the second teacher, Mr Wong Yexiang, who is teaching maths, he commented he did not understand as there are many jargons for him to understand, he was put off by the article. The third teacher is a female maths teacher, Miss Fang Chye Pin, who actually said that she sort of understanding the flaps of the heart is not working but did not elaborate much. The last female maths teacher is Miss Lim Chew Hier who read and tried explaining to me her idea of the Mitral Valve. She is not exactly correct but the idea seemed correct. She also commented that a diagram of the heart would be helpful. From this survey, not conclusive though, explanation of such condition and medical terms may not easy to set at the correct pitch for the general public. The cardiologist attempted to start simple but some medical terms are just difficult to replace. Although a diagram would be helpful, other consideration would be space and every space is taken into consideration for revenue in the papers.

If the target audience for this article (Q and A) is public reader, then I think it may not have achieved its objective and may even put off some audience. Therefore, the explanation has to be simplified and include relevant diagrams. If the target audience is for those with mitral valve prolapse, then it may not be the best platform as this space could be used could be used for issues which concern the public more. If the target audience is just for this particular reader who wrote in, then this space in the newspaper is completely wasted.

Analysing and surveying for the understanding of this article was interesting and fun. The responses and understanding of my colleagues made me realise that communicating science to a general audience is really challenging and thought-provoking process.

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